How do you find a good assembly partner?
Bart Smulders of B-Style on working with SixPointTwo:
“You have to understand each other, without having to explain everything”
In 1973, Ad Smulders invented the wheelchair van. That was the beginning of B-Style, the company now run by his son Bart Smulders. In the year 2022, B-Style delivered conversion kits from Oss to selected conversion companies around the world. This allows these companies to convert commercial vehicles of various brands into wheelchair vans, wheelchair buses, city buses or taxibuses. “More than 95% of our conversion kits are sent abroad, including Australia, Asia, the United States and Europe”, says Bart Smulders.
B-Style converted commercial vehicles for many years. The company sold them to customers in the Netherlands as well as other European countries. “In 2017, we decided to focus entirely on supplying conversion kits to conversion companies. This is because the market has changed a lot over the years. More and more conversion companies have joined in, while the legal requirements and certifications have become increasingly extensive and onerous.” The change is in line with the innovative nature of the company. “With a team of 20 people, we concentrate entirely on developing, supplying and servicing conversion systems and solutions for combined transport. We can now focus even more attention to product development: building and testing prototypes.”
Always a complete solution
Any conversion kit that B-Style supplies for a specific commercial vehicle application can be used anywhere in the world. “For this, we look closely at the market and at the legal requirements and certifications. For a Volkswagen taxibus, a conversion company in Finland gets the exact same conversion kit as a conversion company in the Middle East. That taxibus is then rendered suitable for driving on snowy roads and in the mountains as well as for trips in the desert. We thus increase the overall quality of the kit.”
B-Style relieves its customers of their concerns. “We arrange all the paperwork concerning certification and legal requirements. Irrespective of whether a customer is located in Spain, India or Australia: they can be confident that our conversion kit will meet all local requirements.” B-Style also arranges all matters with the commercial vehicle manufacturers. “They issue a letter of no objection for the conversion kits we make for their commercial vehicles. Among others, we are a Premium Partner of Volkswagen and Van Partner of Mercedes. If a kit goes to Hong Kong, Volkswagen Hong Kong can immediately check whether it is conformant.”
All these precautions are necessary since we are concerned with passenger transport in this context. “The safety of people is crucial. We have to guarantee that the conversion remains in one piece even if an accident happens.”
The changeover to focusing exclusively on conversion kits has been a major operation. “For instance, we also ensure that the conversion companies we supply to are fully in control. For their part, they must be able to fully rely on the quality of our conversion kits. Each set must therefore be complete, down to the last nut.”
Many parts of the conversion kits, such as sheet metal parts, wiring harnesses and plastic parts, are made by partners. “Because assembly is a time-consuming process, we like to collaborate with partners who can not only manufacture components, but can also assemble larger components. The time we save in this manner can be invested in product development and service.”
Cooperation with SixPointTwo
After an introductory meeting with Iman Landheer in December 2021, a collaboration with SixPointTwo was launched early this year. “We were looking for a new party that can also perform assembly work. As agreed, we started small. We first requested quotations and then placed an order for making simple steel components. Step by step, we expanded that to components in larger series and to more complex components. We have now taken the next step: SixPointTwo now also assembles larger components.”
Assessing assembly partners
What is the basis on which B-Style assesses assembly partners? “The first requirement of course is that their product should meet our specifications. This requires that they interpret our drawing correctly! But we also expect them to think about smarter ways to make the product.” In addition, communication is important. “Do we get quick answers to our questions? Do they respond quickly, jointly examine solutions with us, and in case there are mistakes, do they also have the courage to reach out and follow through?”
Understanding each other is another requirement. “If, for instance, we specify that a product must not be sharp, our partner must understand why we require that and also what we mean by it. After all, everything we make passes through human hands, at SixPointTwo, at our end, in the conversion companies, and at the transporters’ end as well.” Another important aspect: you shouldn’t have to explain everything. “I once heard the story of an entrepreneur who had had components made for a consumer item from a foreign assembly partner. Those components met all the technical requirements. But they had one drawback: they stank beyond belief. That assembly partner was indignant when the entrepreneur called him out on it. Where in the specifications was it stated that this was not allowed? Well, if you have to explain that …”
The phase of exploring what B-Style and SixPointTwo have to offer to each other is over. Bart Smulders is positive. “We will continue to work together. One problem is just that the market is unpredictable at the moment. The market has still not recovered from corona. Vehicles are being delivered with delays. As a result, we cannot look beyond two to three months at the moment. We discuss this with our customers and our partners. But if the market develops as we hope, then the collaboration with SixPointTwo will definitely grow!”
Are you curious about what SixPointTwo can do for your company as an assembly partner? If so, please contact Iman Landheer, tel +31 6 4224 3466, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.